Armonk, N.Y.-based International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) launched the Rapid Supplier Connect network to help government agencies and health care organizations tap into new, non-traditional suppliers now producing devices and equipment needed to battle COVID-19. Membership in the blockchain-based network is free through Aug. 31, 2020, to qualified participants.
A number of other organizations are contributing their expertise to vet perspective suppliers, including Dun & Bradstreet, Thomson Reuters, Rapidratings, Project N95, and KYC Sitescan.
“IBM has been mission-focused on helping with supply chain shortages associated with the COVID pandemic and within that, helping buyers who need medical equipment to connect with non-traditional suppliers,” Mark Treshock, IBM’s director of blockchain solutions for health care and life sciences told BioWorld.
As more companies switch from manufacturing their usual products to making personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, sanitizers and other materials needed by health care organizations, supplies have increased, but buyers still lack a way to easily locate, validate and buy the goods.
“Clothing suppliers are rejiggering to make PPE; Ford and GM are making respirators; Dyson is making ventilators. If you were the director of procurement of a hospital in New Hampshire, how would you connect with a PPE producer in Brazil?” asked Treshock. “It may be a multimillion dollar company, but not one the hospital is familiar with.”
The goal of Rapid Supplier Connect is to take the friction out of the process of identifying, verifying, onboarding, and buying from new suppliers for health care organizations and governments in the U.S. and Canada, Treshock explained.
The goal is to create a single centralized, trusted source of information about suppliers. Using a blockchain-based platform ensures that the information entered by suppliers is “recorded immutably,” so that buyers can have confidence in it, he said.
Partners facilitate trust
In the mad scramble for materials in the face of rapidly escalating demand and acute shortages in established supply chains, health care organizations and governments have faced a phalanx of nefarious actors trying to cash in on the pandemic.
To address concerns about fraud, oversold inventory, and financial stability, IBM has combined its existing technology with validation and other services offered by other prominent organizations.
“On the tech side, the platform is based on existing technology that runs in production today that we MacGyvered in three weeks to meet this need,” said Treshock. “We picked the most appropriate pieces from our Trust Your Supplier identity platform, which is secured by blockchain, and our Sterling Supply Chain Suite for inventory visibility to make something very specific to this situation.”
CDAX, a third-party pay master, has brought about 100 suppliers they work with to the platform. In addition, they operate like a small trade finance bank, securing funds on behalf of buyers in a custody and settlement account and holding goods ordered from a supplier under a consignment arrangement until the buyer verifies acceptance of the order and releases the funds.
The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation is facilitating participation in the network by more than 200 American suppliers, largely apparel companies that have pivoted to producing PPE. “In their case, they vet all suppliers under them that they work with and operate as a single point of contact for those suppliers,” Treshock noted.
Other groups have brought their expertise to the network at no cost as well. They include Project N95, which functions as a clearinghouse for verified information on COVID-related suppliers. Dun & Bradstreet is offering its identify resolution, firmographic data, and supplier risk and viability scores, while Rapidratings contributes financial health data on suppliers. KYC Sitescan will facilitate “Know Your Business” due diligence report access and Thomson Reuters will offer access to its Clear customer due diligence tool.
New York’s Northwell Health has joined the network on the buyer side. Currently, buyers need to be based in the U.S. or Canada, but Treshock said that IBM hopes to expand to include international buyers as well.
While the program is free through the end of August, “if the solution needs to remain in place after that, it can,” he added, but the details on what the economics of participation would look like then have not yet been worked out.
“At some point, hospitals and care facilities will go back to their regular supply chain and suppliers will go back to producing their regular products,” Treshock noted, but “there could be a silver lining in that suppliers and buyers could see how easy it is to use advanced technology and will want to use it after the crisis ends.”